by Joanne Henning Tedesco —
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree. There are between 50 and 250 different species of cinnamon, depending on which botanist you believe. The two main varieties are Cinnamomum cassia and Cinnamomum zeylanicum. Native to Sri Lanka, the best cinnamon grows along the coastal strip near Colombo.
In its wild state, cinnamon trees grow high on stout trunks. Under cultivation, the shoots are continually cropped almost to ground level, resulting in a low bush, dense with thin leafy branches. The finest quills (strips of bark rolled one in another) come from these.
After the spongy outer bark is removed, the strips generally are thin and pale brown to tan. The best varieties are pale and parchment-like in appearance. Cinnamon also is available ground, as a lightly colored, very fine powder.
Whole cinnamon quills keep their flavor indefinitely. However, many recipes call for the powdered variety. Like other powdered spices, ground cinnamon quickly loses flavor — it should be purchased in small quantities and kept away from light in airtight containers.
The light, delicate taste of cinnamon is commonly used in cakes and other baked goods, milk and rice puddings, chocolate dishes and fruit desserts, particularly those containing apples and pears. It is commonly used in many Middle Eastern and North African dishes, to flavor lamb tagines or stuffed aubergines.
It may be used to spice mulled wines, creams and syrups. The largest importer of Sri Lankan cinnamon is Mexico, where it is drunk with coffee and chocolate and brewed as a tea.
Given cinnamon’s strong aromatic nature, it is believed to have surprisingly few healing powers. It is mildly carminative and used to treat nausea and flatulence. It is also used alone or in combination to treat diarrhea. Cinnamon’s phenol oil is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.
Joanne Henning Tedesco is editor of AzNetNews.
Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 23, Number 1, February/March 2005.